The front line of environmental crime

Feature story - 27 November, 2003
While we were battling in the rarefied, elite corridors of power at a UN meeting to maintain a voice for protection rather than exploitation of the oceans, our flagship, the Rainbow Warrior, was at the sharp end of environmental exploitation - the ship breaking beaches of India. Discover what it is like to be onboard the Rainbow Warrior for the first time and confronting environmental crimes first hand.

Rainbow Warrior on toxic patrol in India

For the last two weeks the Rainbow Warrior has been in Alang, India - where old ships are sent for scrapping. The majority of ships are from developed countries and many contain hazardous materials like cancer causing asbestos and toxic PCB's. It is illegal to export these hazardous materials individually to developing countries like India but unscrupulous shipping companies, aided by governments who turn a blind eye, exploit loopholes and grey areas in international law.

The crew of the Warrior have been witness to the problems caused when workers cut up the ships without any protection and the resulting pollution littering the beaches. Evedien and other crew members have been keeping an online diary of their experiences:

Toxic patrols, attempted arrests and success

After arriving and a quick adjustment to the bustle of Indian life in Bombay it was straight onboard the Warrior and the challenge of 35C heat and broken air conditioning onboard.

The next important task was making friends with the radio operator, who is vital if you want to do any web work from the ship, then it was time to meet the crew and get down to some proper hard graft - scrubbing the decks and keeping everything ship shape.

Once in Alang it was time to launch some toxic patrols to check for specific ships such as the Genova Bridge and get pictures and details to expose the double standard of countries such as the UK, which doesn't want toxic ships to be imported to the UK, but allows its own toxic ships to be exported to India. Specific details are also helpful to work towards international laws to ensure owners clean ships before exporting them for breaking in Asia.

The toxic patrols soon draw the attention of the local breaking industry that use their huge local influence to spread misleading stories in the local media and also get the local authorities to try and arrest the Rainbow Warrior. Comments on the weblog also show how some people are be mislead about our intentions, others have good suggestions and messages of support.

To address the misleading stories the crew take time to explain that Greenpeace is not against ship breaking or trying to steal jobs from the workers but we campaign to have ships cleaned before they are sent for scrap so the local workers and environment are not harmed by waste from rich countries.

After two weeks in Alang the crew can see some significant progress and some victories from all their hard work. The ship has now left Alang to continue its work in India confronting other environmental crimes.